ATF Says LAPD Bomb Squad Caused Huge Neighborhood Explosion

A destroyed LAPD armored tractor-trailer seen after the agency’s questionably competent bomb squad detonated way too many fireworks in a South Los Angeles neighborhood, seen here on July 1, 2021.
Photo: Damian Dovarganes / File (AP)

No shit: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has concluded that the Los Angeles Police Department is responsible for that huge fireworks explosion because it exploded too many fireworks at once.

On June 30, members of the LAPD bomb squad were disposing of 5,000 pounds of seized fireworks in South Los Angeles. Something went very wrong when they attempted to dispatch a number of “coke can-sized” devices with powder and fuses on them, with the resulting blast leveling a portion of the neighborhood. The borked disposal attempt resulted in at least 17 injuries, damage to dozens of homes and vehicles, and the displacement of around 75 residents thanks to property destruction. At least two others have since died, one an elderly man who died after relocating to a motel and the other a man whose ceiling collapsed on him while he was sleeping. Locals suspect those deaths are connected.

Police initially insisted that the incident was a “routine detonation,” that they had no idea what went wrong, and only 10 pounds of explosives were detonated. It was actually almost 40 pounds, far over the maximum amount that could have been disposed of safely. According to the Los Angeles Times, ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge Michael Hoffman told residents during a closed-door meeting on Monday night that the explosion was due to the LAPD loading the device designed to make a certain amount of things go boom with way too many things that go boom.

The disaster “was caused by overloading the [total containment vessel] with more explosives than the TCV was designed for,” Hoffman said during the meeting, which was restricted to attendance by local residents only. “That’s what caused the failure.”

The ATF is “absolutely certain” of this conclusion, he added.

The Times wrote that Hoffman told attendees the ATF had ruled out other possible causes, such as degradation of the containment vessel, a malfunction of its door mechanism. He added that the TCV was designed for repeated detonations of around 19 pounds of TNT equivalent, or up to 33 pounds of explosives at a single time (after which they would have to be returned to the manufacturer for analysis). The LAPD’s bomb technicians blew up 39.8 pounds of explosives at one time. The names of the officers involved have not been released.

According to the Times, LAPD Chief Michel Moore added during the meeting that bomb squad technicians had eyeballed the explosives rather than actually bothering to weigh them with a scale. Several individuals involved are no longer on the bomb squad and will not be making a return. (Of course, there’s no reason to believe those cops can’t take their lack of expertise to another town.) Moore added that all other protocols were correctly followed, other than the one that resulted in the LAPD bombing the neighborhood. He specifically cited officers going door to door to give evacuation notices, which locals contest, saying they were given an inadequate warning or mixed messages before the detonation.

The LAPD will now be making changes including no longer using a TCV to detonate explosives in residential areas, requiring that any explosives detonated be weighed, and “checks and balances” to ensure that step is taken, Moore added, the Times wrote.

“As trained professionals in one of the largest police departments in America, I still cannot fathom how the LAPD thought it was acceptable to merely eyeball unstable explosives in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood,” City Councilman Curren Price told the paper in a statement on Monday evening.

Attorneys representing locals have filed multiple legal claims for bodily injury and property destruction against the city of Los Angeles and the LAPD, citing the clear recklessness involved. A South Los Angeles man, 26-year-old Arturo Ceja III, has pleaded guilty to a federal charge of illegally transporting the fireworks that went up in the blast.

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